In less than two weeks, on the opening day of Major League Baseball's first-year player draft, Oklahoma State left-hander Andrew Heaney will be selected in the first round.
Discuss the position and debate the destination, but make no mistake, Heaney, with his effortless cannon and smooth delivery, has become a consensus first-round pick.
“(He is the) best college lefty in the draft,” ESPN.com baseball insider Keith Law wrote recently. “Could go in the single digits.”
The selection won't come with statewide celebration, like that of Justin Blackmon or Brandon Weeden in last month's NFL Draft, yet Heaney's success story mirrors that of the two homegrown stars.
He grew up in Oklahoma City, lettered four years at Putnam City High and dreamed of playing at OSU long before he starred there.
Now, after a stellar career with the Cowboys, including a 20-9 record, Heaney is nearing the next stage of his career — taking the talents he groomed in Oklahoma to the professional world. On the strength of a dominant junior season that features an 8-1 record and a 1.63 earned run average that tops all conference starters, Heaney is The Oklahoman's Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, highlighting the paper's annual All-Big 12 Team.
For Heaney, it's been quite a ride, if not always a smooth one.
Heaney wasn't always viewed as a top prospect because, frankly, he didn't always look like one.
“When he got here, he was rail-thin,” Cowboys coach Frank Anderson said. “I think he weighed 147 pounds at our initial physical.”
So OSU's coaching staff issued Heaney marching orders to the weight room, where, for a gangly freshman thrust into the Division I weight training world, things can be a bit awkward. Like when his teammates were testing how many times they could bench 135 pounds. And Heaney had to politely decline an attempt at an impossible weight.
“Yeah, it was a little uncomfortable,” Heaney said. “That first semester was pretty tough because I still had a lot of room to make up to even get to the point where I could have a lift partner because everyone was so far ahead of me.”
But the pitching talent was always there. And as former teammate Brad Propst said, “We were all wondering who this skinny kid was, until we saw him throw a baseball.”
As a freshman, he was impressive, leading the team with five wins, but struggling late in the year.
As a sophomore, tabbed as the ace, Heaney got off to a blazing 6-1 start, but crumbled in conference play. With the deciding month of the season unfolding and his ERA skyrocketing, Heaney was banished to the bullpen.
Two seasons. Two hot starts. Two slow finishes, as his slender frame fell victim to the taxing season.
“Those were the questions he had coming in,” Anderson said. “How durable was he going to be? Was he going to be able to hold his velocity late in games? Was he going to be able to throw 100 innings?”
The first two seasons produced a resounding no. But, after seeing steady results in the weight room, Heaney has flipped the script.
Standing 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, Heaney won't intimidate in a back alley. But that slight jump has allowed a matured body to catch up to his refined pitching game. And the results have been tangible.
Only a lack of offensive support has kept his stout 8-1 mark from being better. His 132 strikeouts lead the Big 12 and rank second nationally. And unlike in the past, Heaney has become stronger as the season progressed. He has pitched into the ninth inning in his last five starts, producing complete game wins in three of them. He leads the conference with 110.1 innings pitched.
“Not sure if it's the best, but it's certainly one of the top five seasons I've had pitched for me,” Anderson said. “I've had players in the past go in the first round and he's got that talent.”
But before he embarks on that journey, Heaney is pegged with one more task in the orange and black. And the details couldn't be more intriguing.
Bedlam at the Big 12 Tournament, back in his hometown, with his team's postseason chances on life support.
“Being able to go back home and have friends and family come watch me pitch and everything like that, it's really fun. Hopefully, it's not my last start for Oklahoma State and in Oklahoma City. I'm really thinking we are going to make a regional this year.”